Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s unbeaten pre-season
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Our Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt delivers his pre-season verdict, following the Canaries’ Brighton finale
1. Education, education, education - If Norwich City’s players are still getting to know how Daniel Farke wants to control the ball and build from the back, spare a thought for those poor Canaries’ supporters who had their first glimpse into Daniel’s world against the Seagulls. Brighton took all of 20 minutes to work out they needed to press Angus Gunn and City’s back three. Chris Hughton yelled ‘press, press, press’ at one stage from the front of his technical area to emphasize the point. Farke was unhappy when Gunn launched kicks aimlessly, imploring Mario Vrancic to get it and get City playing. There were a few nervy moments throughout, despite Gunn exuding a calm assurance with the ball at his feet, but this is the new philosophy. City fans will need to adjust as much as Farke’s players.
2. Injuries. An excuse or mitigation? - The sight of both Remi Matthews and Michael McGovern on the bench against Brighton in another under-manned substitutes’ roster underlined both a worrying injury roll call and the relative success of reducing the head count in a bloated first team squad. That may have been driven by a financial dimension this close season but City have routinely named a short bench during pre-season. Farke delivered a mixed fitness bulletin after the Brighton draw. Wes Hoolahan and Josh Murphy should be in contention for Fulham. Ivo Pinto looks set to miss out. Add the Portuguese to Timm Klose and Alex Pritchard and the suspended Steven Naismith and Farke is deprived of four key performers. A trip to Craven Cottage looked tough enough before Farke was forced to plan without so many frontline options. But to the German’s credit, he is yet to offer the reduced numbers as an excuse. One would not expect that to change despite the real business poised to get underway.
3. James Maddison. Fast-track promotion - The stylish young midfielder came in for some rough treatment from the streetwise Glenn Murray but Maddison continued to demand the ball and look to spark attacking moves. That says as much for his character as his undoubted talent. With Pritchard injured, Hoolahan on the comeback trail, after a disrupted pre-season, and Naismith suspended for the opening two games, the 20-year-old has moved up the batting order as a viable option. Farke alluded after the Brighton game the ex-Coventry City trainee still has work to do to cope with the physical demands of the Championship but it would be far less of a surprise to see him feature at Craven Cottage. Few may have thought that was the case before a ball was kicked at Cobh Ramblers.
4. Defensive concerns persist - It may seem churlish to focus on the negative aspects of an unbeaten pre-season programme but the manner Bielefeld and Brighton cashed in on defensive vulnerability remains a cause for concern. Norwich were cut open far too easily in both games, albeit they admirably responded in kind. In that regard, Farke and his squad are paying the price for the avalanche of concessions last season under different management. That is a heavy burden to carry for the new regime but until this City collective and their astute German head coach consistently show they have the resolve in the Championship to go with the attacking panache the lingering fears may continue.
5. Craven Cottage. Opportunity knocks - There is something almost machiavellian another Norwich boss should begin their tenure at Fulham. Both Neil Adams and Chris Hughton suffered the same fate as too many before and since. It really is time to end the Cottagers’ curse. City were 2-0 up last season before Neil’s men succumbed. Fulham were arguably the best side to visit Carrow Road, when they deservedly won later in the season despite playing the second half with only 10 men after Chris Martin’s red card. If Farke can engineer an opening day victory at a place City have failed to win since January 1986 the goodwill towards the new man will need to be tempered by a soaring optimism. But it would undeniably prove a valuable early statement of intent this could be a season to enjoy not endure.